London Convention and its Protocol on the Dumping of Waste at Sea

The 1972 international Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Waste and Other Matter (London Convention) created a list of prohibited waste (e.g. mercury, persistent plastics, crude oil, radioactive waste, etc.) and a permitting mechanism of all other waste. In 1996, the “London Protocol” was agreed to further modernize the 1972 Convention and, eventually, replace it. Under the Protocol all dumping is prohibited, except for possibly acceptable wastes on the so-called “reverse list”. 

The London Convention and the London Protocol each have their own Conference of the Parties (COP). However, they meet together in joint-sessions. The work of these two bodies is generally referred to as the LC/LP. The Secretariat of the LC/LP has been entrusted to the IMO. It is important to note that although meetings of the COPs take place at the IMO, they are separate from the meetings of the IMO Committees (e.g the Marine Environmental Protection Committee – MEPC) which have no mandate to discuss the LC/LP. See the web page of the LC/LP on the IMO website:  https://www.imo.org/en/OurWork/Environment/Pages/London-Convention-Protocol.aspx 

What is the Dumping of Waste at Sea and why it matters?

The dumping of waste and other matters at sea refers to the deliberate disposal at sea of wastes or other matter from vessels, aircraft, platforms or other man-made structures at sea. It also includes any deliberate disposal at sea of vessels, aircraft, platforms or other man-made structures at sea. These deliberate disposals can also be referred to as an intentional placement for disposal.  An example which is still current is the abandonment of offshore oil and gas platforms at the end of their commercial life, unless they are serving a new legitimate use of the sea such as a diving resort, an aquaculture structure or a managed artificial reef. One may also remember the placement of nuclear waste at sea in deep ocean trenches in the 60s and 70s and the political crises it created.  This practice has been stopped with the adoption of the adoption of the London Convention.

Despite the 1972 Convention and its 1996 Protocol, the disposal of non-authorized waste streams at sea is still practiced. Parties to these legal instruments also seek to continue limiting the disposal of waste at sea and to ensure that authorized waste do not impact the marine environment.

Whilst the placement of waste at sea is regulated under one specific legal regime, it involves waste from different activities (on land and at sea) which, at national and international levels may also fall under the purview of different organisations or authorities.

ACOPS Activities and Recent Developments

ACOPS is an Observer to the Governing Bodies of the London Convention and the London Protocol. We have been and still are active with the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the 1972 London Convention and its 1996 Protocol as well as the Scientific Group to these bodies and their working and correspondence groups. Matters of particular interest include the waste streams focused on by these bodies including marine plastics and microplastics, guidelines on the selection of marine dump-sites, the placement of artificial reefs, geoengineering including fertilisation and the placement of mine tailings (including deep-sea tailings).

The meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the London Convention and its Protocol was held at the International Maritime Organization on 7-12 October 2019 (LC41). A key development in this meeting was the adoption of a resolution by COP41 for the provisional entry into force of the 2009 Amendment on the transboundary export  of CO2 for the purpose of carbon capture and storage (or “sequestration”) – referred to commonly as CCS. Sequestration of CO2 in the sub-seabed is thus possible for this States that have adopted the amendment.  This resolution was framed as a necessary removal of a barrier to CO2 removal which has been highlighted by the IPCC as one of the necessary